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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Harbaugh’

Michigan 33 – Minnesota 10: Higdon, Evans run all over Gophers as Michigan retains Jug

Monday, November 6th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters got his first start, but he didn’t have to do much but hand the ball off as Karan Higdon and Chris Evans stole the show, rushing for 393 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-10 win over Minnesota.

Final Stats
Michigan  Minnesota
Score 33 10
Record 7-2 (4-2) 4-5 (1-4)
Total Yards 427 164
Net Rushing Yards 371 90
Net Passing Yards 56 74
First Downs 14 13
Turnovers 0 1
Penalties-Yards 9-85 3-10
Punts-Yards 5-204 8-388
Time of Possession 27:35 32:25
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 4-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 5-46 3-23
Field Goals 0-for-1 1-for-1
PATs 3-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 2-of-2 1-of-2
Full Box Score

Storms that swept through the Midwest postponed the start of the game, but in front of a mostly packed Big House Higdon and Evans gave Minnesota a dose of thunder and lightning. The pair became the first duo in Michigan history to rush for at least 191 yards in the same game and Higdon became the first Wolverine to top 200 yards in a game twice in a season since Mike Hart did so three times in 2004.

Higdon wasted no time getting the party started, taking Michigan’s second play of the game 47 yards to set up a 20-yard screen pass from Peters to tight end Sean McKeon for a touchdown. After a Minnesota touchdown, Higdon took the second play of Michigan’s second possession 77 yards for a touchdown.

Two drives later, Evans got in on the action with an 18-yard run followed by a 60-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead 20-7.

It took Michigan a while to get going in the second half, but on their third possession of the third quarter, Higdon scored his second touchdown of the game, this time from five yards out to cap a 9-play, 46-yard drive.

The defense forced a three-and-out and Evans raced 67 yards on the first play of the ensuing possession for another touchdown.

The fourth quarter was all smooth sailing for the Wolverines and fourth-string quarterback Alex Malzone even got to lead a possession. Minnesota tacked on a garbage time field goal to reach the games’ final score of 33-10.

All told, Michigan rushed for 371 yards, sacks included, the second straight big rushing week for the Wolverines. They piled up 334 yards on the ground against Rutgers last week.

Higdon finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries (12.5 yards per carry), while Evans tallied 193 yards and two scores on 13 carries (14.7 yards per carry). Peters completed eight of 13 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. McKeon caught three passes for 30 yards and a score.

Defensively, Michigan held Minnesota to just 164 total yards, 90 on the ground and 74 through the air. But after having a little bit of success early on, the Gophers managed just 36 yards on 28 plays in the second half. Running back Rodney Smith, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in 2016, managed just 38 yards on 18 carries (2.1 yards per carry). Sophomore linebacker Khaleke Hudson led Michigan with 13 tackles (11 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a force fumble.

Next week, Michigan hits the road to face Maryland (4-5, 2-4) in a 12:30 kickoff on Big Ten Network.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (16 carries for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns) & Chris Evans (18 carries for 193 yards and two touchdowns)
Higdon gets the nod for the third time this season after notching his second 200-yard rushing game of the season. The sophomore has established himself as the lead back in a crowded backfield the past few weeks, averaging 150.8 yards per game with eight touchdowns in the past month. He’s now fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, just 60 yards behind Saquon Barkley on 33 fewer carries, and ranks second in rushing touchdowns behind Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.

Not to be outdone, Evans, who most assumed would be the breakout back this season after a promising freshman campaign, had his best game of the season, nearly matching Higdon’s big night. Evans had touchdown runs of 60 and 67 and averaged 14.7 yards per carry. It was the first time this season he has topped 100 yards.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)
Week 7 — None
Week 8 — Brandon Peters (10-of-14 for 124 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Khaleke Hudson (13 tackles — 11 solo — 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
For the second time in three weeks Khaleke Hudson takes the defensive game ball. The sophomore was all over the field on Saturday night, harassing Minnesota ball carries in the backfield and sacking quarterback Demry Croft twice. He forced a fumble and set a school record with 7.5 tackles for loss. That performance catapulted him to the top of the Big Ten in tackles for loss and that game all by itself would have nearly been enough to put him in the top 20 in the conference.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 7 — Khaleke Hudson (4 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Week 8 — Maurice Hurst (8 tacles — 2 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)

Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

Friday, November 3rd, 2017


Michigan turned to the future in the second quarter of last week’s win over Rutgers, inserting redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters to replace John O’Korn. While Peters wasn’t perfect he showed enough potential to give Michigan fans hope — something O’Korn couldn’t do.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – FOX
Minnesota Head Coach: PJ Fleck (1st season)
Coaching Record: 34-26 (4-4 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Kirk Ciarrocca (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Robb Smith (1st season)
Last Season: 9-4 (5-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 29 – Minn 26 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 74-25-3
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 39-13-1
Jim Harbaugh vs Minnesota 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (29-26)
Last Minnesota win: 2014 (30-14)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Record in Little Brown Jug: Michigan 70-23-2
Minnesota schedule to date
Opponent Result
Buffalo W 17-7
at Oregon State W 48-14
Middle Tennessee W 34-3
Maryland L 24-31
at Purdue L 17-31
#21 Michigan State L 27-30
Illinois W 24-17
at Iowa L 10-17

Peters is likely to get his first start tonight in a FOX primetime matchup with Minnesota. The Gophers are looking to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since PJ Fleck took over. Fleck rose to stardom last season when he took Western Michigan to a MAC championship and a Cotton Bowl appearance where they held their own with Wisconsin.

When Tracy Claeys was fired following the season, Fleck jumped at the chance to take the reigns of a Big Ten West team, a better situation than Chris Ash and DJ Durkin put themselves in with coaching gigs at Rutgers and Maryland in the loaded Big Ten East. If Fleck is able to rebuild the Gophers he’ll have a chance to compete with Wisconsin for the division title.

It’s not going to happen this year, however, as Minnesota is just 4-4 overall and 1-4 in conference play. They started the season 3-0 with wins over Buffalo (17-7), Oregon State (48-14), and Middle Tennessee (34-3) before dropping their first three conference games to Maryland (31-24), Purdue (31-17), and Michigan State (30-27). They bounced back with a 24-17 win over Illinois before falling to Iowa 17-10 a week ago.

Now, Fleck gets his first taste of the Little Brown Jug, one of the oldest rivalries in college football. Michigan has owned the series, winning 75 percent of the all-time matchups including 40 of the last 44. But Minnesota got the better of the Wolverines the last time they visited Ann Arbor. Fittingly, it was the game that sealed Brady Hoke’s fate when Shane Morris was concussed

With a new quarterback behind center Michigan will try to put that behind them and build some momentum heading into the final three games of the season.

Prediction

Offensively, Minnesota ranks 86th nationally and 9th in the Big Ten in scoring (25.1 points per game), 47th and 4th in rushing (182.2 yards per game), 115th and 13th in passing (156.4 yards per game), and 110th and 11th in total offense (338.6 yards per game).

Quarterback play has been erratic as Conor Rhoda lost his job to Demry Croft two weeks ago. Croft has completed just 42.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions. In the last two games, he’s just 14-of-43 for 186 yards. Michigan’s defense will be the best he has faced to date.

The running game, however, has been pretty steady, rushing for more than 200 times in four of eight games. Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,185 yards a year ago, leads the team with 670 yards on 4.3 yards per carry.

Defensively, Minnesota ranks 21st nationally and 6th in the Big Ten in scoring (18.8 points per game), 36th and 7th against the run (132.8 yards per game), 23rd and 4th in pass defense (184.0 yards per game), and 20th and 6th in total defense (316.8 yards per game).

In conference play, the Gophers are allowing a touchdown more per game than their season-long scoring defense indicates. Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State all scored 30 or more points on the Gophers, while Maryland and Michigan State both found success on the ground, rushing for 262 and 245 yards.

The biggest thing to watch in this game is how Peters handles his first start. He had success coming in as a backup last week when the opponent was not only Rutgers, but had no tape on him. Now, Minnesota has a little bit of tape and can throw things at him that he hasn’t seen yet. Can he rise to the occasion against a decent pass defense? Expect Michigan to look to establish the running game and utilize a simpler offense than the first half of the season to give Peters easy reads and greater chance for success.

Defensively, Michigan should be able to stop Minnesota’s offense with very little threat of a passing game. Like usual, the Wolverines might give up an early score, but Don Brown’s defense will adjust and shut down the Gophers the rest of the way. Michigan wins comfortably.

Score Prediction: Michigan 31 – Minnesota 7

Michigan 35 – Rutgers 14: Peters takes over, steady in win over Rutgers

Monday, October 30th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

After suffering its second defeat in three games last weekend, Michigan got the benefit of a Homecoming matchup with Rutgers on Saturday to ease back into the win column. And they did just what they had to do with a 35-14 victory.

Final Stats
Michigan  Rutgers
Score 35 14
Record 6-2 (3-2) 3-5 (2-3)
Total Yards 471 195
Net Rushing Yards 334 94
Net Passing Yards 137 101
First Downs 25 9
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 3-25 3-20
Punts-Yards 3-125 8-352
Time of Possession 36:44 23:16
Third Down Conversions 3-of-9 3-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 5-25 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-1 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-5 1-of-1
Red Zone TDs-Chances 4-of-5 1-of-1
Full Box Score

Despite a 21-point margin of victory, it didn’t start out easy, however. John O’Korn started and led the first four possessions, which resulted in two punts, a touchdown, and an interception, before giving way to redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who made his long-awaited debut. And he did it in style, leading three straight touchdown drives to turn a 7-7 second-quarter score into a 28-7 third-quarter lead. And just like that, the Peters era had begun.

On his first drive, Peters completed passes of 15 yards to Ty Wheatley, 10 yards to Henry Poggi, and 12 yards to Nico Collins as Michigan went 77 yards on eight plays. Karan Higdon ran it in from 10 yards out.

After the Michigan defense forced a three-and-out, Peters got the ball back and completed a 12-yard pass to Zach Gentry on 3rd-and-3. Four plays later, he connected with Chris Evans on a wheel route for a 20-yard touchdown.

On his third drive — Michigan’s first possession of the second half — Peters needed just one pass attempt, a 10-yard completion to Ty Isaac, as the Wolverines marched down the field for a 4-play, 54-yard touchdown drive. Fellow redshirt freshman Kareem Walker scored his first touchdown of the season, carrying it in from five yards out.

Rutgers answered with a touchdown on its ensuing possession to pull within 28-14, but that was as close as they would get.

Peters led another promising drive, completing a pair of 15-yard passes to Grant Perry and Sean McKeon, but Michigan had to settle for a field goal attempt. Quinn Nordin missed it from 35 yards out.

The Michigan defense forced another punt, and Higdon followed up a 12-yard run with a 49-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead at the final score of 35-14.

Michigan’s offense racked up 471 total yards, 334 of which came on the ground on 6.5 yards per carry. Peters completed 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, while O’Korn went 3-of-6 for 13 yards and an interception. Higdon rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while Isaac also topped 100 with 109 yards. The two averaged 8.8 and 7.8 yards per carry, respectively. Ten different Wolverines caught a pass, led by McKeon’s three for 31 yards.

Defensively, Michigan held Rutgers to just 195 total yards and just 94 rushing yards. Rutgers entered the game 11th nationally with just six sacks allowed through seven games, but Michigan got to the quarterback five times. Devin Bush led the way defensively with 11 tackles, two for loss, and half a sack. Chase Winovich recorded 1.5 sacks, while Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary each had one and Kwity Paye and Michael Dwumfour were each credited with a half.

Michigan stays home to host Minnesota next Saturday at 7:30pm. The Gophers are 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck.

Game Ball – Offense

Brandon Peters (10-of-14 for 124 yards and 1 touchdown)
Yes, it’s a stretch to give the game ball to a quarterback that completed just 10 passes for 124 yards, especially considering the game Higdon had with 158 yards rushing and two touchdowns. But Peters is easily the story of the game, taking over an offense that looked stagnant under O’Korn and making an immediate impact. I’m cautious to draw too many conclusions from his performance in one game — against Rutgers nonetheless — but it was a great first step and showed enough to earn his first start next Saturday. Was he perfect? No. The play before his touchdown pass, he should have been picked off. He also underthrew a wide open McKeon on the last possession of the day, a play that may have been another touchdown. But he took command of the offense, looked to be in control, made some nice plays, made the right reads, and didn’t make any costly mistakes.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)
Week 7 — None

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 2 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
This was a tough one to pick this week because a bunch of different players made big plays for the Michigan defense. Although Devin Bush led the team in tackles, when I think about who made the biggest impact on the game, I have to go with Hurst. He was constantly in the Rutgers backfield, recorded eight tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. Throughout the season he has cemented himself as a high draft pick next April and that was no different on Saturday.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 7 — Khaleke Hudson (4 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)

Michigan vs Rutgers game preview

Saturday, October 28th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Michigan suffered its second loss in three games last week, a humiliating 42-13 beatdown in Happy Valley, drawing a chorus of calls for staff shakeups including Jim Harbaugh. It’s clear that the Harbaugh honeymoon is over, but with the youngest Power-5 team in college football, losses to rival Michigan State and on the road at Penn State aren’t the worst things that could happen. What would be is a Homecoming loss to Rutgers this Saturday.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – BTN
Rutgers Head Coach: Chris Ash (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 5-14 (all at Rutgers)
Offensive Coordinator: Jerry Kill (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Jay Niemann (2nd season)
Last Season: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 78 – RU 0 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 2-1
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 1-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Rutgers 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (78-0)
Last Rutgers win: 2014 (26-24)
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Michigan on Homecoming: 90-28-2
Rutgers schedule to date
Opponent Result
#8 Washington L 14-30
Eastern Michigan L 13-16
Morgan State W 65-0
at Nebraska L 17-27
#11 Ohio State L 0-56
at Illinois W 35-24
Purdue W 14-12

A year ago, Michigan strolled into Piscataway, N.J. and set all kinds of records including the largest Big Ten margin of victory for any team since 1940 and the most rushing touchdowns in a game in Michigan program history. Fullback Khalid Hill scored three touchdowns and third-string fullback Bobby Henderson even found the end zone. It was an utter beatdown.

Like Michigan’s big win over Penn State last season, Rutgers will enter this matchup looking for revenge. And the Scarlet Knights aren’t nearly as bad as they were in 2016 when they went just 2-10 overall and 0-9 in the conference. For starters, they’ve already topped last year’s win total and have won back to back Big Ten games for the first time since joining the conference. Their win over Illinois two weeks ago ended a 16-game conference losing streak and they followed it up with a 14-12 win over Purdue last Saturday.

Now, before we get carried away with Rutgers accolades, let’s keep in mind that their three wins so far this season are over Illinois (2-5, 0-4), Purdue (3-4, 1-3), and Morgan State, an FCS school that is currently 1-6 and has only scored 93 total points in seven games.

Rutgers lost 16-13 to Eastern Michigan, 27-17 to a Nebraska team that is just 3-4 this season, 30-14 to a good Washington team to open the season, and got whooped by Ohio State, 59-0. So essentially, Rutgers is pretty much where they’re expected to be at this point, except for that loss to EMU.

With two potentially winnable games remaining on the schedule (home against Maryland on Nov. 4 and at Indiana on Nov. 18), Rutgers needs to squeeze out one more win to become bowl eligible. With Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State left on the docket, given Michigan’s recent struggles, they probably feel that Michigan is their best chance, 2016 be damned.

Could that happen? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Rutgers offense

Ash lost last season’s offensive coordinator, Drew Mehringer, to Tom Herman’s staff at Texas, so he went out and paid big money to get former Northern Illinois and Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill to run his offense. Kill went 29-29 at Minnesota from 2011-15 before retiring due to health problems. He wound up at Kansas State as an associate athletic director last season before Ash pulled him back into the coaching ranks.

Through the first seven games of 2017, his offense ranks 103rd nationally and 13th in the Big Ten in scoring (22.6 points per game), 62nd and 8th in rushing (167.7 yards per game), 121st and last in passing (133.6 yards per game), and 122nd and last in total offense (301.3 yards per game).

Fifth-year senior quarterback Kyle Bolin transferred to Rutgers from Louisville, where he lost his starting job to Lamar Jackson in 2015. But he struggled in the first four-plus games, ranking 114th nationally in passer rating with just three touchdowns and six interceptions, so he once again lost his job, this time to redshirt junior Giovanni Rescigno, who promptly led the Scarlet Knights to back to back wins. But did he really? Sure, they won, but he completed just 14-of-28 passes (50 percent) for 176 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the best part about that two-game stat line is the lack of interceptions.

Like Michigan, Rutgers doesn’t have an established receiving threat. They have a bunch of guys who can occasionally catch the ball, but no go-to weapon. Junior tight end Jerome Washington leads the team with 19 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown, but after catching six passes in the season opener, he has just four combined in his last three games. Fifth-year senior Jenarion Grant is explosive — he was second-team All-Big Ten as a return specialist in 2015 — but suffered a season-ending injury after four games a year ago. Against Eastern Michigan in Week 2 this season, he caught eight passes for 91 yards, but missed the Nebraska and Ohio State games and had just one catch for five yards last week. Fifth-year senior Damon Mitchell — the brother of former Michigan, and injured Rutgers, receiver Ahmir Mitchell — is the only other pass catcher with at least 100 yards this season. He has nine catches for 122 yards.

The bright spot of the Rutgers offense is fifth-year senior running back Gus Edwards, who ranks ninth in the Big Ten with 69.6 rushing yards per game and tied for fourth with five rushing touchdowns. He hasn’t posted a 100-yard rushing game this season, but has been consistent with between 43 and 94 yards in each game. Last week was his best game with 14 carries for 94 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown against Purdue. In fact, on the two-game winning streak he’s averaging 92.5 yards on 5.3 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns. Senior Robert Martin, the team’s leading rusher last season, has 278 yards and two scores on 4.7 yards per carry, but his production has slowly tailed off throughout the season as Edwards’ has increased.

Rutgers defense

Yes, Rutgers has a defense and it’s better than it was last year. I apologize that I ran out of time to complete this week’s recap.

Prediction

Michigan wins but doesn’t win nearly as bad as it did last year. Michigan’s defense will load the box to stuff the run, forcing Rescigno to beat them with his arm. Rutgers has allowed just six sacks this year and Michigan’s defense will challenge that. Offensively, Michigan will run early and often, but I expect Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton to try to get the passing game going. Rutgers’ defense gives up 224.9 passing yards per game, so it’s a great opportunity to find some cohesion between John O’Korn and his receivers.

Score Prediction: Michigan 41 – Rutgers 6

First Look: Our bitter rival, Rutgers

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017


Michigan had a tough task going into Happy Valley to face No. 2 Penn State in front of a whiteout and a national primetime audience. But they were thoroughly embarrassed by a score of 42-13, tying for the worst loss in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Now, the Wolverines get a chance to take out their frustrations on a team they beat 78-0 a year ago. Since Saturday, national pundits and rival fans have enjoyed throwing around the stat that Michigan is currently tied with Rutgers for fourth place in the Big Ten East. The Scarlet Knights have won two straight Big Ten games, ending a 16-game conference losing streak dating back to the first Big Ten game of 2015. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Rutgers & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
22.6 103rd 25.1 89th PPG 23.6 51st 18.6 22nd
1,174 1,213 Rush Yds 1,115 739
167.7 62nd 173.3 55th Rush/Gm 159.3 61st 105.6 11th
4.3 4.1 Rush Avg 4.5 3.2
935 1,314 Pass Yds 1,574 1,110
133.6 121st 187.7 97th Pass/Gm 224.9 71st 158.6 5th
2,109 2,527 Total Off. 2,689 1,849
301.3 122nd 361.0 97th Total Off./Gm 384.1 62nd 264.1 5th
14.8 127th 19.9 90th KR Avg 16.8 11th 14.0 2nd
10.4 32nd 8.1 56th PR Avg 9.4 91st 8.3 79th
31:11 42nd 33:10 11th Avg TOP 28:49 26:50
35% 98th 32% 110th 3rd Down% 30% 22nd 23% 1st
6-49 11th 23-151 118th Sacks-Yds 7-36 122nd 22-156 12th
21 19 TDs 19 16
4-6 (67%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 11-13 (85%) 6-10 (60%)
19-23 (83%) 72nd 19-20 (95%) 8th Red Zone 21-22 (95%) 125th 14-17 (82%) 65th
15-23 (65%) 8-20 (40%)  RZ TD 12-22 (55%) 11-17 (65%)
1.52 122 1.82 103 OFEI/DFEI 1.88 60 0.96 6
20.7 117 26.2 85 S&P+ 22.8 33 17.5 14

Rutgers still isn’t anywhere close to competing for the Big Ten East, but in Year 2 of the Chris Ash era they are ahead of where they were last season. The offense is one of the worst in college football — yes, even worse than Michigan’s — but the defense is halfway decent.

Rutgers ranks approximately midway nationally in nearly every defensive statistic. Their 51st in scoring defense (23.6 points per game), 62nd in rush defense (159.3 yards per game), 71st in pass defense (224.9 yards per game), and 62nd in total defense (384.1 yards per game). They’re 60th in DFEI, which measures defensive efficiency adjusted for strength of opponents faced. But they’re all the way up to 33rd nationally in defensive S&P+, which measures play-by-play data of five factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. By comparison, Michigan’s defense ranks 14th in S&P+, so not much ahead of Rutgers.

Does that mean Rutgers’ defense is in the same league as Michigan’s? Absolutely not. But they are better than their stats indicate. They held Purdue to 12 points in a 14-12 win this past Saturday — the same Purdue team that Michigan let score 10 points — and it took Purdue until 25 seconds remaining to score their first touchdown of the game (they failed the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game). They held Washington to 30 points — their second-lowest output this season — and Eastern Michigan to 13 points — their lowest of the season.

But before we get carried away praising a Rutgers defense, let’s also consider that they haven’t faced the toughest schedule to date (as noted by the DFEI ranking). Yes, they hung with Washington into the third quarter, but that was the first game of the season which can always be unpredictable. The only other S&P top-50 teams they’ve faced are Purdue (48th) and Ohio State (1st). And the Buckeyes soundly beat the Scarlet Knights 56-0, nearly matching their 58-0 score from 2016. Ohio State piled up 628 total yards, averaging 6.2 yards per play. Illinois passed for 308 yards two weeks ago and Purdue, despite scoring just 12 points, piled up 474 total yards, so in the last three weeks Rutgers is allowing an average of 499 yards per game. If ever there’s a week for Michigan’s offense to taste some success it’s this one. On the other hand, if the offense struggles, it will truly be time to worry.

On the other side of the ball, Rutgers ranks 103rd nationally in scoring (22.6 points per game), 62nd in rushing (167.7 yards per game), 121st in passing (133.6 yards per game), and 122nd in total offense (301.3 yards per game). Yes, only seven teams nationally rank worse in total offense than Rutgers.

Interestingly, Rutgers actually averages more rushing yards per game than Penn State did entering the Michigan game last week. But much of that is inflated by a 326-yards performance against Morgan State, which ranks 74th nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in rush defense. Against FBS competition, Rutgers is averaging just 141.3 rushing yards per game, which would rank 89th. Except for a 274-yard rushing game against Illinois’ 107th-ranked rush defense, Rutgers hasn’t topped 131 yards on the ground. They managed just 68 yards on 2.4 yards per carry against Nebraska and 2.9 yards per carry against Ohio State.

The passing game is even worse. Rutgers hasn’t reached 200 passing yards in a game this season and has been held below 100 twice. In the last three weeks, they’ve averaged just 93.7 passing yards per game while completing just 45.6 percent. By comparison, Michigan’s passing offense the last three weeks is averaging 140.7 passing yards per game and 50.6 percent completions. That’s how bad Rutgers’ passing game has been.

If there’s one bright spot for the Rutgers offense it is the fact that they’ve allowed just six sacks through seven games, a figure that ranks 11th nationally. That’s 17 fewer sacks than Michigan’s offensive line has allowed.

As you can see, Rutgers is slightly improved over last year and has a decent defense and an offense even worse than Michigan’s. Given all that has transpired this season I wouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s result, but anything but an easy Michigan win this Saturday should definitely be cause for real, legitimate concern.

#2 Penn State 42 – #19 Michigan 13: Hapless Michigan outplayed, outcoached in State College

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan entered Saturday night’s matchup with No. 2 Penn State with a chance to make a statement in front of a Beaver Stadium whiteout and a primetime national television audience. They did make a statement, but not the kind they wanted, falling 42-13 and dropping out of the Top 25.

Final Stats
Michigan  Penn State
Score 13 42
Record 5-2 (2-2) 7-0 (4-0)
Total Yards 269 506
Net Rushing Yards 103 224
Net Passing Yards 166 282
First Downs 16 25
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-59 1-10
Punts-Yards 6-233 2-99
Time of Possession 32:56 27:04
Third Down Conversions 6-of-16 4-of-7
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 7-49
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-2 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Red Zone TDs-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Full Box Score

It was all Penn State from the outset as the Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives while Michigan went three-and-out on their first two.

Heisman Trophy frontrunner Saquon Barkley didn’t waste any time making his statement, taking the game’s second play 69 yards for a touchdown. On Penn State’s second possession, it took just four plays to move 78 yards for another touchdown.

Michigan cornerback David Long intercepted Trace McSorley on Penn State’s third possession — which was threatening to score once again — and that allowed Michigan to show a little life. John O’Korn led a 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard Karan Higdon touchdown run. But freshman kicker Quinn Nordin, who was once committed to Penn State before flipping to Michigan, missed the extra point to a chorus of boos.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out, but the offense wasn’t able to do anything. Penn State’s next possession stalled at the Michigan 33-yard line on a failed fourth-down conversion, and Michigan took advantage with a 8-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run to pull within 14-13.

But it was all downhill from there. Penn State drove for another touchdown to take back the momentum just before the half and when Michigan couldn’t put points on the board on the first possession of the second half, Penn State put the nail in the coffin with a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-13. From there, the only drama was whether or not James Franklin would try to top the 49 points that Michigan hung on Penn State in Ann Arbor a year ago. They didn’t quite get there, but the damage was done.

Penn State gained 506 yards on a Michigan defense that was allowing just 223.8 yards per game. Penn State rushed for 224 yards on a rush defense that was allowing just 85.5 yards per game. Penn State scored 42 points on a defense that was giving up just 14.7. Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 7.2 yards per carry and also caught three passes for 53 yards and a score. McSorely completed 17-of-26 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown and added 76 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry.

Michigan, meanwhile, failed to top 20 points in regulation for the third straight week, managed just 269 total yards, and gave up seven sacks. O’Korn went 16-of-28 for 166 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third straight game. Higdon rushed for 45 yards on just three yards per carry, while Grant Perry led the way in the air with three receptions for 46 yards.

It was an outcome that most expected, even die-hard Michigan fans, but the matter with which it happened was a worst-case scenario. And now it has a chorus of hot takes and Twitter crusaders calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head. It will die down a bit if Michigan can take care of business the next three weeks against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland, but it won’t go away completely until he wins a big game. With Wisconsin and Ohio State scheduled to close the regular season, he’ll get that shot, but unless there is significant improvement between now and then, it’ll likely just turn up the noise.

Michigan returns home to face Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) next Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by Big Ten Network.

Game Ball – Offense

None
Higdon averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Issac averaged 6.0 but got just six carries. O’Korn threw for just 166 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked seven times. Kekoa Crawford made a nice catch, but it was his only one. Donovan Peoples-Jones got involved in the passing game but dropped a bubble screen that had potential for a huge play. Eddie McDoom is probably the best candidate for this week’s game ball with three receptions for 29 yards and a rush for eight yards, but it didn’t have much impact on the game. The offensive line was horrendous. So no game ball is being given out on offense this week.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Khaleke Hudson (7 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Michigan’s defense had its worst game of the season defensively as Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did a great job of picking on matchups where the Nittany Lions had advantages. That mostly involved getting Barkley matched up with linebacker Mike McCray who couldn’t keep up, but it also involved utilizing slot receivers against Michigan’s safeties. Hudson certainly wasn’t perfect himself, but he made his impact felt with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup that was nearly an interception in the end zone early in the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)

#19 Michigan at #2 Penn State game preview

Friday, October 20th, 2017


(Kirthman F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

A year ago Penn State opened Big Ten play with a visit to Ann Arbor and left with a humiliating 49-10 defeat. It got so bad that, trailing 28-0 in the third quarter and facing 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, James Franklin elected to kick a field goal shorter than an extra point simply to put points on the board rather than try to make a comeback.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (4th season)
Coaching Record: 55-30 (31-15 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (4th season)
Last Season: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 49 – PSU 10 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 13-7
Record in State College: Michigan 6-4
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (49-10)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Penn State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Akron W 52-0
Pitt W 33-14
Georgia State W 56-0
at Iowa W 21-19
Indiana W 45-14
at Northwestern W 31-7

Somehow, that lifeless group of guys went on to win their next nine games, capturing the Big Ten title and narrowly missing out on the College Football Playoff. They knocked off Ohio State and then topped Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game before losing a shootout to USC in the Rose Bowl.

If anything, that performance gives hope to Michigan to pull off a similar feat this season. The Wolverines’ offense looked inept in a 14-10 loss to rival Michigan State two weeks ago and then they survived an overtime game at Indiana last week. Penn State followed up their loss to Michigan last season with an overtime win over Minnesota before tearing through the rest of the schedule.

Penn State carried enormous expectations into this season and they have so far lived up to them, breezing through the first six games with one of the nation’s best scoring margins, winning by an average of 30.7 points per game. That’s 2.5 more points than Michigan averages per game.

But the Nittany Lions haven’t exactly played anybody yet. The highest-ranked team they’ve beaten, according to S&P+, is Iowa, which is 38th, and it took a last-second touchdown pass to escape Iowa City. The other wins have come over Indiana (44th), Northwestern (69th), Pitt (96th), Georgia State (106th), and Akron (112th).

Penn State is favored by more than a touchdown, but they haven’t faced a defense like Michigan’s or a team with as much talent and athleticism yet this season. Michigan’s young team, however, hasn’t faced an atmosphere like a Beaver Stadium whiteout. So what will give? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Penn State offense

(Gordie Jones, NBC Sports)

Joe Moorhead’s offense ranks 17th nationally and second in the Big Ten in scoring (39.7 points per game), 66th and eighth in rushing (165.0 yards per game), 22nd and second in passing (291.2 yards per game), and 33rd and third in total offense (456.2 yards per game). It’s a potent offense no doubt with a Heisman candidate running back and a dynamic quarterback, but let’s take a moment to consider the defenses it has faced thus far. Iowa and Indiana’s defenses rank 23rd and 22nd, respectively, in S&P+. The Hawkeyes held Penn State to just 21 points — seven coming on the game’s final play. Michigan’s defense ranks No. 2 behind only Alabama. Every other defense Penn State has faced ranks no higher than 44th.

The workhorse is junior running back Saquon Barkley, who may be the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy at this point in the season. He leads the team in both rushing and receiving with 649 yards and six touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry and 395 yards and two touchdowns on 13.6 yards per reception. In fact, he ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing (108.2 yards per game), tight for fourth in receptions per game (4.8), and seventh in receiving (65.8 yards per game). Yes, only a handful of receivers catch more passes for more yards than Penn State’s running back.

Beyond Barkley, however, only one other player has more than 63 rushing yards and that is quarterback Trace McSorley. The senior leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game, but he’s also effective with his feet with 178 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also leads the conference with a 67.0 percent completion rate and has a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Even though Barkley leads the team in rushing, it doesn’t mean he’s the only talented pass catcher. Redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson ranks ninth in the Big Ten with four receptions per game, averaging 50.5 yards per game, while fifth-year senior Daesean Hamilton ranks eighth in the conference with 61.0 yards per game. However, Hamilton has just one game with more than three receptions and that was a nine-catch, 122-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana. Johnson, meanwhile, has caught at least four passes in four of six games, including a total of 19 in the last three. Senior tight end Mike Gisecki was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season and is a good safety valve for McSorley. He has four touchdowns on the season, but hasn’t had one since Week 2.

Penn State defense

(Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports)

Defensively, Penn State’s numbers are pretty impressive in the first half of the season. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in scoring defense (9.0 points per game), rank fifth in the Big Ten and 24th nationally in rush defense (117.3 yards per game), second and ninth in pass defense (167.8 yards per game), and fourth and ninth in total defense (285.2 yards per game).

But while Penn State’s offense hasn’t faced a top-tier defense, its defense hasn’t even faced a competent offense. Northwestern’s 73rd ranked offense (per S&P+) is the best so far. Despite Michigan’s offensive struggles, it’s right on par with that (76th). Penn State allowed the nation’s 113th-best (Pitt), 104th (Georgia State), and 92nd (Indiana) rushing offenses to each rush for over 150 yards. Michigan’s running game, while not a world-beater by any means, ranks 49th, so it should be able to have some success on the ground.

Make no mistake; this is a deep and talented defense. It seems that Penn State always has solid linebackers, and although they had a couple injured in last year’s meeting, that’s true again this year. Senior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda is the team’s leading tackler with 40 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. WILL linebacker Manny Bowen and SAM linebacker Koa Farmer (a converted safety) are both experienced and have combined for 50 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The defensive front is deep and strong similar to Michigan’s. Redshirt sophomore end Shareef Miller leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and also has 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries, while fellow redshirt sophomore end Ryan Bucholz has two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries. The combination of fifth-year seniors Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren create a formidable interior. The latter was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season.

Saving perhaps the best unit for last, the secondary is one of the best in the conference. Senior free safety Marcus Allen has been around forever and has been an All-Big Ten performer in each of the past two seasons. He ranks second on the team with 35 tackles, second with four tackles for loss, and also has a sack and an interception. Senior strong safety Troy Apke has 24 tackles and an interception. Corners Christian Campbell and Grant Haley are very good defenders and have a combined 17 passes defended, 14 pass breakups, and three interceptions.

Penn State special teams

Senior kicker Tyler Davis made 32 of his first 34 field goals in 2015 and 2016, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors last season. But he has struggled so far this season, making just 6-of-13 with a long of 47. Sophomore punter Blake Gillikin ranks second in the conference with an average of 44.2 yards per punt. He has booted seven of his 26 punts over 50 yards and has downed 16 of 26 inside the 20.

In addition to rushing and receiving, Barkley is a dynamic kick returner, averaging 32.2 yards per return with one touchdown. Redshirt junior receiver DeAndre Thompkins is the main punt returner with an average of 17.1 yards per return and has also scored a touchdown.

Prediction

There’s a reason Penn State is a heavy favorite and nearly everyone is writing Michigan off. With backup quarterback John O’Korn under center due to Wilton Speight’s injury, Michigan’s offense has struggled immensely against Michigan State and Indiana the past two weeks. Penn State is very good on both sides of the ball and is one of the hottest teams in the nation dating back to last season’s matchup in Ann Arbor. A primetime whiteout is not the type of environment that one of the nation’s youngest teams playing with a backup quarterback can feel confident about going into and earning a win.

But there are a couple of factors working in Michigan’s favor. With Don Brown’s defense playing as perhaps the nation’s best — only Alabama can have an argument about that — the Wolverines will have a great chance to keep the game within striking distance. Even more, it matches up well with Penn State’s offense. As dynamic as the Nittany Lions are, they’ve struggled in a couple areas: third downs and allowing sacks.

Guess what.

Michigan’s defense leads the nation in third-down defense and ranks sixth in sacks. Penn State ranks 77th nationally with a 37.8 percent third-down conversion rate, while Michigan’s defense allows conversions at just a 20.5 percent clip. Penn State ranks 101st nationally with 16 sacks allowed — the same number Michigan’s offense has allowed — and Michigan’s defense is averaging more than three sacks per game. Penn State has allowed 14 of those 16 sacks in the last three games. Iowa, who recorded just eight sacks in its other five games, had four against Penn State. Indiana, who recorded nine its other five games, recorded five against Penn State. And Northwestern, who got to the quarterback eight times in its other five games, sacked McSorley five times.

Additionally, for as good as Penn State’s offense is, they aren’t dynamic in terms of big plays. They average just five explosive runs per game (fewer than Michigan) and 4.3 explosive pass plays per game (Michigan averages three) for a total of 9.3 total explosive plays, which ranks just 40th nationally. They also give up 8.3 tackles for loss per game, a number that only 12 teams nationally can top.

So there’s hope that Michigan’s defense can considerably slow down the Penn State offense. The question is whether Michigan’s offense can put up enough points to make it count. I certainly wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to move the ball consistently, but I’d look for a big night from kicker Quinn Nordin, who chose the Wolverines over Penn State. Michigan will get a touchdown, but will settle for field goals, which in a game like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Points are good. I see this game going down to the wire with Penn State scoring a touchdown late to pull out a win.

Score Prediction: Penn State 23 – Michigan 19

First Look: Penn State

Monday, October 16th, 2017


Michigan got back in the win column on Saturday, topping Indiana 27-20 in overtime to advance to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. Their reward? A trip to State College to face the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions in a primetime “White Out” game.

A year ago, Michigan humiliated Penn State in Ann Arbor to the point where James Franklin kicked a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the Michigan 2-yard line in the third quarter while trailing 28-0. Penn State went on to win the Big Ten despite that 49-10 loss and you can bet Franklin hasn’t forgotten that game. The Nittany Lions have won 15 of their last 16 games and had a bye week this Saturday to prepare. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Penn State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
39.7 17th 27.2 79th PPG 9.0 1st 14.7 8th
990 1,110 Rush Yds 704 515
165.0 66th 185.0 49th Rush/Gm 117.3 24th 85.8 6th
4.8 4.4 Rush Avg 3.1 2.6
1,747 1,148 Pass Yds 1,007 828
291.2 22nd 191.3 94th Pass/Gm 167.8 9th 138.0 3rd
2,737 2,258 Total Off. 1,711 1,343
456.2 33rd 376.3 86th Total Off./Gm 285.2 9th 223.8 1st
30.9 1st 18.5 104th KR Avg 18.6 40th 13.9 2nd
15.8 12th 8.7 49th PR Avg 1.3 12th 8.0 72nd
29:56 63rd 33:12 11th Avg TOP 30:04 26:48
38% 77th 32% 116th 3rd Down% 34% 41st 20% 1st
16-99 101st 16-102 101st Sacks-Yds 17-111 19th 20-145 6th
31 17 TDs 7 10
6-13 (46%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 2-4 (50%) 6-10 (60%)
23-27 (85%) 58th 17-18 (94%) 10th Red Zone 6-10 (60%) 4th 10-12 (83%) 67th
19-27 (70%) 6-18 (33%)  RZ TD 4-10 (40%) 7-12 (58%)
OFEI/DFEI
22.4 3 27.6 76 S&P+ 21.7 22 15.3 8

Penn State is the nation’s hottest team with 15 wins in their last 16 games since their loss at Michigan last September. The only loss was a 52-49 defeat by USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 to end last season. They’re 6-0 so far this season and have looked dominant in doing so, but how good are they really?

The non-conference slate featured Akron (now 3-3), Pitt (2-5), and Georgia State (3-2). Penn State handled those three by a combined score of 141-14. The Nittany Lions opened Big Ten play with Iowa, nearly getting tripped up, but scoring from seven yards out on the final play of the game to pull off a win. They then beat Indiana 45-17 and Northwestern 31-7.

Have they looked better than Michigan this season? Of course. But are they unbeatable? Absolutely not, as proven by the near defeat in Iowa City. Iowa is a good team, but isn’t the team it has been the past few seasons. But the next three weeks will decide Penn State’s fate. Michigan comes to town and then they travel to Ohio State and Michigan State in back to back weeks. Get through that gauntlet unscathed and they’ll have a date with Wisconsin for the Big Ten title for the second straight year. But that’s easier said than done.

Penn State features the best offense Michigan has faced yet this season but also the best defense. The Nittany Lions have a scoring margin of 30.7 points, which is one of the best nationally, behind Alabama, Ohio State, and UCF. They have two shutouts, have held three of six opponents to a touchdown or less, and haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 19 points yet this season. Their offense, meanwhile, hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points and has topped 45 points in three of six games.

They do it mostly through the air with the 22nd-best passing offense, averaging 291.2 passing yards per game. By comparison, Michigan’s nearly nonexistent passing offense is averaging 100 yards fewer. Quarterback Trace McSorely leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game and he carries a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio and leads the conference with a 67 percent completion rate. Penn State has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of their six games with a high of 360 against Georgia State, but Pitt’s 110th-ranked pass defense held the Nittany Lions to just 164 passing yards on 5.9 yards per attempt.

While the running game is just middle of the pack statistically (66th nationally, averaging 165.0 yards per game), it does feature one of the nation’s top running backs in Saquon Barkley, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 108.2 yards per game. He leads the conference with 217.0 all-purpose yards per game — nearly 50 more than the next-best — as he factors heavily into the run game, pass game, and kick return game. But there’s not much in the way of a run game beyond Barkley. Penn State topped 200 yards rushing twice in six games, against Iowa’s 57th-ranked and Akron’s 69th-ranked rush defenses. But PSU managed just 39 yards on 37 carries against the same Indiana team that Michigan thrashed for 271 yards on Saturday. Barkley averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 20 carries with a long of eight yards. Last week at Northwestern, they failed to break 100 yards for the second straight game, managing just 2.5 yards per carry.

Defensively, opponents have been able to have some success on the ground as Pitt, Georgia State, and Indiana all rushed for at least 150 yards, though they did so on 3.4 yards per carry. But none of those three have highly-ranked running games. Indiana’s is the best at 92nd nationally, while Georgia State’s ranks 104th, and Pitt’s ranks 113th. The other three opponents — Akron, Iowa, and Northwestern — averaged just 74 yards per game, though all four rank in the 90s nationally as well, which means that Michigan’s 49th-ranked running game will be twice as good as any running game Penn State has faced this season, which isn’t saying much.

The pass defense is another story. Penn State hasn’t allowed a 200-yard passing game yet this season and they boast the nation’s ninth-best pass defense, allowing an average of 167.8 yards per game. By comparison, Michigan’s third-ranked pass defense allows about 30 yards fewer per game. With the exception of the season opener, when Akron threw for just 85 yards, the last five opponents have been pretty consistent against Penn State, throwing for 187, 170, 191, 175, and 198 yards. Michigan’s passing game has been anemic the past couple weeks since the injuries to Wilton Speight and Tarik Black — John O’Korn threw for just 58 yards against Indiana on Saturday — so I wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to have much more success through the air than Akron did.

In the special teams game, Penn State ranks pretty highly across the board, leading the nation in kick returns with an average of 30.9 yards and ranking 12th in punt returns, averaging 15.8 yards. The good news is that Michigan ranks second nationally in kick return defense and a big reason for that is James Foug’s ability to kick it deep and prevent returns.

There are a couple of reasons for hope that Michigan’s defense can slow down Penn State’s offense. First, the Nittany Lions rank 77th nationally in third-down conversion rate (38 percent) and the Wolverines defense leads the nation, allowing just a 20 percent clip.

The other area is sacks, where Penn State has allowed 16 just like Michigan, a total that ranks 101st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten. They’ve given up 14 sacks in the last three games (four to Iowa, and five each to Indiana and Northwestern). Outside of their matchup with Penn State, those teams have averaged 1.6, 1.8, and 1.6 sacks per game against their other opponents. Michigan’s defense leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in sacking the opposing quarterback, averaging 3.3 per game.

Finally, when Penn State has been forced to settle for field goals, which it has attempted more than anyone else in the Big Ten except for Michigan, it has made just 6-of-13 — worst in the conference. Kicker Tyler Davis is just 2-of-8 from beyond 30 yards and has had two blocked.

So if Michigan can stop Barkley on early downs, force Penn State into long passing downs and pressure McSorely, and hold the Nittany Lions to field goal attempts, they’ll have a chance to pull off the upset on Saturday night.

#17 Michigan 27 – Indiana 20 (OT): Michigan survives overtime scare in Bloomington on Higdon’s big day

Saturday, October 14th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

It wasn’t pretty, and the offensive struggles were still evident, but Michigan bounced back from its loss to Michigan State with a 27-20 overtime victory at Indiana.

The Michigan defense gave up 10 points in the fourth quarter — the first they’ve allowed all season — to send the game into overtime, but it held strong in the first overtime period to secure the win.

Michigan began the game as if it would make an easy go of it, scoring on each of its first three possessions and blocking an Indiana field goal to take a 13-0 lead.

Final Stats
Michigan  Indiana
Score 27 20
Record 5-1 (2-1) 3-3 (0-3)
Total Yards 329 278
Net Rushing Yards 271 80
Net Passing Yards 58 198
First Downs 17 14
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 16-141 5-55
Punts-Yards 9-367 8-354
Time of Possession 35:09 24:51
Third Down Conversions 2-of-13 5-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-20 0-0
Field Goals 2-for-2 2-for-3
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 3-of-4
Red Zone TDs-Chances 1-of-3 2-of-4
Full Box Score

The first drive went 49 yards in 13 plays, taking up 6:35 and ended in a 40-yard Quinn Nordin field goal. Indiana responded with a 12-play, 54-yard drive, but Maurice Hurst blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt and Lavert Hill returned it 35 yards to the Indiana 27-yard line. Michigan’s offense couldn’t go anywhere and had to settle for a 38-yard field goal. After forcing an Indiana three-and-out, the offense finally found the end zone when Karan Higdon carried it in from 12 yards out to cap an 80-yard drive.

But Michigan’s offense would stall from there and Indiana kicked a 32-yard field goal of its own just before the half.

The second half started as poorly as possible as Michigan went three-and-out on its opening possession and Indiana marched right down the field for a a touchdown to pull within 13-10.

Neither team could muster any offense the rest of the third quarter, combining for just 39 yards on 24 plays from there on. In fact, aside from a 7-play, 30-yard possession for Michigan following IU’s touchdown, the two teams combined for seven straight three-and-outs.

Michigan broke the stalemate when Higdon broke free through the middle and raced 59 yards for a touchdown to widen Michigan’s lead to 20-10 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Yet again, the two teams traded three-and-outs, and then Hill came up big with an interception to give Michigan a chance to seal the win. But the offense wouldn’t make it easy, punting away to J-Shun Harris, who showed why he leads the Big Ten in punt returns this season, taking it back 53 yards to the Michigan 20. Indiana converted six plays later with a 8-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Ramsey to Whop Philyor with 3:27 remaining.

Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs recovered the ensuing onside kick, but it was overturned as he didn’t have complete control prior to stepping out of bounds. What has become a familiar refrain during the Jim Harbaugh tenure, Michigan’s offense couldn’t pick up a first down to end the game, settling for a punt, which resulted in a touchback, and a holding call advanced the ball to the 30, meaning the punt only changed the field position by 15 yards.

With no timeouts, the ball at their own 30-yard line, and 1:05 remaining, Indiana completed passes of nine yards and 24 yards to the edge of field goal range. A false start backed them up five yards, but Ramsey found Cobbs for 14 yard and the Hoosiers were able to nail a 46-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.

Michigan lost the coin toss, but wasted no time on its first possession. Higdon took a handoff from John O’Korn, ran into congestion in the middle of the field, and bounced outside to his left. He turned the corner and raced to the end zone to give Michigan a 27-20 lead.

Indiana got a pass interference call on David Long on its first play to move the ball to the Michigan 12, then back to back runs gave the Hoosiers 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Rashan Gary stopped Morgan Ellison for a 2-yard loss on first down, then Ramsey threw an incomplete pass on second. Ramsey tried to run it himself on 3rd-and-goal from the three, but Gary and Noah Furbush stopped him for a loss of one. On 4th-and-goal, Ramsey rolled out to his left, and with Chase Winovich bearing down on him, lobbed the ball into the end zone, but Tyree Kinnel picked it off to end the game.

Michigan rushed for 270 yards on 6.2 yards per carry while holding Indiana to just 80 yards on the ground. Higdon became the first Michigan running back to top 200 yards rushing since Mike Hart in 2007. Higdon totaled 200 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, averaging eight yards per carry. O’Korn managed just 58 yards on 10-of-20 passing and didn’t throw for a touchdown or an interception. Donovan Peoples-Jones led the Wolverines with four receptions for 34 yards.

Defensively, Devin Bush led Michigan with eight tackles, but Gary had his best game of the season statistically with seven tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and two quarterback hurries. Hurst and Long each added half a sack.

Now 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan travels to State College next Saturday for a primetime showdown with Penn State. ESPN’s College GameDay has announced that it will be broadcasting live from Happy Valley, and with Clemson’s loss to Syracuse on Friday night, the Nittany Lions will likely move up to No. 2 nationally behind Alabama.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)
Last week against Michigan State, Higdon was the lone bright spot offensively, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and totaling 98 yards from scrimmage. He was inexplicably given just 12 carries despite consistently gaining yards. This week, he continued that momentum, cementing his spot as Michigan’s featured back with a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance. His 59-yard touchdown run put Michigan ahead by 10 points in the fourth quarter, and then his vision to bounce outside from what should have been a tackle for loss on the first play of overtime resulted in a 25-yard touchdown run. Eight of his 25 rushes were categorized as big plays (10 yards or more) against a defense allowing just 4.2 explosive runs per game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Rashan Gary has taken some criticism this season for his perceived lack of production — just one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss entering the Indiana game. But the coaching staff and those who know have raved about his play, noting that he has constantly been drawing double-teams, which frees up other players to make plays. On Saturday in Bloomington, he finally got to show his production, adding a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss in addition to two quarterback hurries. His play was most apparent when the defense had its back up against the wall in overtime as he tackled Ellison for a loss of two on 1st-and-goal from the one and stopped Ramsey for a loss of one on 3rd-and-goal.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)

The numbers game: Michigan’s big play offense nonexistent against MSU

Friday, October 13th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewerO’Korn leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4; U-M defense still better than 2016 heading into MSU showdown;

First the good news.

Michigan’s defense is still basically perfect during the 2nd half this year. Don Brown’s ability to download the opposing team’s offense in one half and then make the right adjustments is incredible.

Now the bad news.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First six weeks comparison: 2017 vs past two seasons
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 23 19 42 11.55% 1.99% 8
2016* 48 22 70 15.77% 5.60% 25
2015 27 14 41 9.58% 1.97% 13
*through six games

Michigan recorded just two explosive plays last weekend, the lowest of the Jim Harbaugh era. Honestly, I was not too surprised given the issues the offense has had this year but it’s still disappointing. Michigan’s defense, however, was right about where they’ve been all year surrendering just six explosive plays — only one after halftime.

For the year, Michigan is averaging 4.6 explosive runs per game (77th nationally) and 3.6 explosive passes per game (47th) for a total of 8.2 explosive plays per game (76th). Their big play percentage is 11.55 percent (79th). Not very good overall.

Comparing that to last year’s team through six weeks (five games this year versus six in 2015), Michigan was averaging eight explosive runs per game (11th) and 3.67 explosive passes per game (45th) for a total of 11.67 explosive plays per game (10th). Their big play percentage was 15.77 percent (11th). All those numbers are down from 2015 but given the inexperience on the offensive line and the regression in quarterback play it isn’t all that surprising.

I’m disappointed but not concerned. Harbaugh has a stellar track record and the improvements he has made at Michigan compared to his prior two predecessors is unfathomable. Hold your heads high Michigan faithful, for the offensive woes are almost erased by the defense led by Don Brown.

Defensive big plays
Michigan defense – 2017 average to date vs past 2 seasons
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 3.20 2.40 5.60 9.56% 1.99% 8
2016* 3.67 1.33 5.00 8.40% 7.36% 46
2015 3.50 1.00 4.50 7.61% 1.97% 13
*through six games

Michigan’s defense is surrendering a mere 3.2 explosive runs per game (18th) and 2.4 explosive passes per game (27th) for a total of just 5.6 explosive plays per game (13th). Their big play against percentage is 9.56 percent (26th) and their big play differential is 1.99% (50th). Their toxic differential, however, is just eight — good for 57th on a per game basis.

The 2015 defense averaged 3.67 explosive runs per game (30th), 1.33 explosive passes per game (2nd) for a total of 5 explosive plays per game (2nd). Their big play against percentage was 8.4 percent (11th) and their big play differential was 7.36% (6th). The defense has stayed about the same while the offense is apparently in hibernation as they prepare for a monster 2018 playoff run…I’m assuming, anyway.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan stands pat at 18 total sacks (11th nationally), which is the same as last week but they robbed Rashan Gary of one sack, with the play-by-play claiming it was a run. It was not. They are averaging 3.6 sacks per game, which is good for sixth overall. They have 40 tackles for loss (21st) but their eight TFL per game is good for 11th overall.

Individual Big Plays
Michigan’s Week 6 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
2 3rd and 12 John O’Korn to Sean McKeon 38 Pass
4 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 12 Run
Michigan State’s Week 6 big plays
1 2nd and 7 Gerald Holmes 15 Run
1 2nd and 13 Brian Lewerke 14 Run (TD)
1 1st and 10 Darrell Stewart Jr. 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Brian Lewerke to Darrell Stwart Jr. 30 Pass
2 1st and 10 Madre London 50 Run
3 3rd and 12 Brian Lewerke 10 Run

Individual big play leaders stayed the same but Sean McKeon’s big reception brought him into a three-way tie with Tarik Black and Grant Perry’s three explosive receptions.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Indiana defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 23 19 42 11.55% 1.99% 8
IU Def. 21 14 35 9.33% -1.58% -11
Indiana offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
IU Off. 17 14 31 7.75% -1.58% -11
UM Def. 16 12 28 9.56% 1.99% 8

Indiana is next up and our old pal Mike DeBord is their offensive coordinator. I think Michigan’s defense should be able to handle them. Whether the offense can do anything — and on the road — is yet to be seen.

Indiana is averaging 3.4 explosive runs per game (113th) and 2.8 explosive passes per game (80th) for a total of just 6.2 explosive plays per game (113th). Their big play percentage is 7.75 percent (127th). They are not a big play offense, at all.

Their defense is much better than their offense (it’s weird to say that about IU), averaging 4.2 explosive runs per game (49th) and 2.8 explosive passes per game (47th) for a total of seven explosive plays surrendered per game (38th). Their big play against percentage is 9.33 percent (21st) and their big play differential is -1.58 percent (98th). Their toxic differential is -11, good for 102nd on a per game basis.

I’d like to think this is a game Michigan should win big, especially after last week’s letdown, but the offense is what it is and I don’t think we can expect much improvement on that front. Still, Michigan’s defense is championship caliber and if the offense can eek out 20-plus points they can beat anyone. Michigan should win this by at least a touchdown, so that means they’ll probably win 13-12.